I work a day per week in a school in a low ICSEA (Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage) area in Tasmania. The principal and staff are amazing. And so were the principal and staff before the current lot.
They trust each other and they work as a team. They have remained devoted over many years and have passed the baton of devotion when for whatever reason they have had to leave their posts. They overcome obstacles and they struggle around bumps in the educational, staffing, resourcing, and knowledge-translation roads.
Joyfully extolling the human richness of our little school, is not at all to suggest that others don’t experience the same joy in their schools. Of course they do! The foregoing words are in celebration. They are not intended to elicit comparative defensiveness or diminishment.
The source of such joy is in the wellbeing arising from warm, connected interaction. Even when things are tough going. At our school we have this type of interaction with each other, the students, the families, and the community. And if you have it in your school or workplace, then you know just what I mean. It feels so good.
But schools are places of education, and some may think that discussions about school development should not be about ‘feeling good’ but about data and proof in numbers.
Bring it on.
(Though we must also remember there are plenty of excellent numbers-based data from studies in neuroscience and psychology showing that safety, trust, connection, and joy are essential in the foundations of both school-development and student-development.)
As it happens, our little school has numbers-based data on the educational outcomes too.
Take the phonemic awareness skills of the 2021 Prep class for example.
There were 27 students, including 11 with diagnosed neurodevelopmental conditions. That’s 40.7% of the class on targeted speech and language intervention programs.
In December 2020, at the end of their Kindergarten year, 14.8% of this cohort of children were in the average range for phonemic awareness skill. At the end of the Prep year, it was 74%.
Of those children with diagnosed conditions, at the end of the Kinder year, one child was in the normal range for phonemic awareness – that’s 9%. But at the end of the Prep year, nine of them were – that’s 82%.
There are many other language and literacy skills to measure and understand. This is just a sample. But it is a powerful sample demonstrating what is possible. This is why there is a resounding chorus in Tasmania calling for #100PerCentLiteracy. Because it’s achievable.
The gains at our school happened through the trust, devotion, and determination of all the adults in the school. But not only. There was also committed intention to deliver evidence-based instructional technique.
All the Preps received explicit phonemic awareness instruction at whole-class level. Those who had been flagged with multiple risk factors, received daily one-to-one ‘doses’ of intensive input structured specifically for them, for their individual needs, and their rates of progress. They all became used to working this way and happily participated in their sessions without grudging, embarrassment, or fear. They loved it.
Through this intensive practice, the year finished in the glow of green on our traffic-light system for tracking their progress.
But now it’s a new year. We cannot rest on the laurels of 2021. We must keep up the intensity and keep tailoring it dynamically as the children’s language and cognitive processing systems change. Or those systems won’t keep changing in the direction we want.
This is targeted intervention. It’s combined with high expectations and engaging interaction. The children enjoy themselves and genuinely experience their skills growing. They feel fulfilled rather than frustrated or shamed. They learn to notice and think about their thinking. They learn to understand that they can use their thinking to keep improving. They are rewarded with interactive fun. Actually… we all love it!
These ‘kiddos’ as we affectionately refer to them, have multiple risk factors through no fault of their own. We must remain vigilant. Pouring successful learning experiences into them matters for their futures.
So that’s our 2022 mapped out!
And here’s a contribution you can make. Tasmania’s Literacy Advisory Panel has opened its community consultation through until 25th March.
The details are here: Department of Premier and Cabinet (dpac.tas.gov.au)
Have your say about literacy in Tasmania. Help shape policy that will give Tasmania wings toward 100% literacy by 2030. Anyone can write, draw, video or audio record their insights and experiences for the panel to include in their considerations.
One hundred per cent literacy means 100% of our people reading, writing, and communicating at 100% of their potential. Just like with our little school, this is possible with the trust, devotion, and determination of the adults – and their committed intention to deliver evidence-based instructional technique.
This post by Rosie Martin first appeared as a Talking Point article in Hobart’s The Mercury newspaper on 21st February 2022.
Display photo credit: Fab Lentz via Unsplash
Right photo: Jo Clark, Principal at St Paul’s Catholic School
Left photo: (left to right) Natasha Williams – prep teacher, Rosie Martin – speech pathologist, Anne Duigan – student support coordinator, Louise Morgan – learning assistant